Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Chapter Eight: How I Wanted Desperately to be A Nun Growing Up!
By Claudia Ricci
As a little girl, I was desperate to be a nun. I wanted so badly to be a nun that my Grandfather Claude, for whom I am named, and whose English was thickly accented by Italian, used to trail me around the house calling me “Seester.” So maybe that’s why I think I am a nun since he christened me and his name was Claude, which by the way means “lame one” (for the Emperor Claudius.)
My dear friend and spiritual advisor Denise, who helped me recover from cancer eight years ago, thinks I should change my name. I asked her why and she told me that the "lame one" creates an energetic field that isn't just good for me.
She suggested that I use my middle name, which is Jean, or some version of it, Jeanna or Gina, because Jean “is of Hebrew origin, and its meaning is "God's grace." I should mention perhaps that some years ago I converted to Judaism.
How odd, a Jewish Italian woman writing a story about a Spanish nun who is imprisoned for killing her cousin.
Well so, Grandpa Claude and my Grandma Mish (short for Michelina) referred to all nuns, except for me, that is, as “crows.”
The ones I knew in Catholic school certainly fit that description to a T, they were as mean as black beady-eyed crows. They made us kneel on hot asphalt in the schoolyard in June so that we could say the stations of the cross. I remember the hot burning tar and the sharp grit cutting into my young knees.
And now it hits me: the name of the church and the school that I attended as a little girl, where I suffered the brutality of the nuns, was Saint Anthony's.
I have so many nun stories I could tell, and so does my brother and so does my mother too. Very scary stories. But the only nun story I really want to tell is the murder mystery, the one about Renata and Antonie, and how I believe that I am living in 1883, sitting in the courtyard and climbing the hillside with Teresa and traveling to San Francisco with Antonie and Señora.
Denise believes in past lives, and she thinks my nun story is…important.
Once a few years back I saw a psychiatrist at Harvard, my sister Karen took me there on a sunny cold morning in January, we drove I 90 all the way to Boston, my sister, who is a nurse, insisted we go because she was so worried about me, my mental health, I was quite depressed.
When I told the shrink about my nun story, how I feel like I’m in prison, how
I have the scratchy feeling of her black wool habit right here at the tender part of my waist, where my big black rosary beads hang, how I sit in the courtyard of the convent with Sister Teresa, how I can see the black cracks snaking through the blue and white tiles, how I can see the fountain, dry now of water, how I can count the birds, how I feed the chickens corn pellets from my white apron, how I often stare up at the lion-colored California hillsides near the convent how I walk up those hillside giggling with Sister Teresa, how we have picnics under the live oak trees, how the smells make me sneeze, how we unlace our blocky black shoes and we take them off and lie down on the blanket side by side, how we stare into the azure sky, how I decided to let Theresa read my diary, http://renata1883.blogspot.com/2010/04/renata-writes-diary.html and so now she is the only one who knows the truth about Antonie and how he is trying to frame me with his outrageous stories.
Well, so, I should tell you that I even have the newspaper clipping from 1882 accusing me of Antonie’s murder. The one from the San Francisco Examiner, you can see it right herehttp://renata1883.blogspot.com/2006/06/this-is-newspaper-that-condemned-her.html So this way maybe
I can prove to you and the world that this nun story is absolutely true.
Anyway, when I told the shrink at Harvard all about that, I expected her to commit me, but she didn’t even blink at my story, she simply suggested that I take it very seriously, she actually suggested that I consult a past life regression therapist she knew about in Worcester. Or she said, I should find a different past life therapist nearer my home.
I was surprised, and my sister, well, she was a lot more surprised.
I never did seek out a past life therapist.
And then there was the time more recently when my sister Holly bought me the nun costume. It was a really lovely costume, and it looked quite good on me, even the white headpiece binding my forehead, and the black veil looked quite lovely too. But that was not good timing, her buying me that nun costume, because. Well.
Let's just say it was a difficult time in my life. A very scary time.
Sometimes I get scared even now.
Sometimes I get scared because I am convinced that maybe I am just plain crazy. A crazy Italian Jewish Spanish woman telling a nutty story which
nobody will believe
nobody will ever read.
Of course, on that subject of readers, Denise would say to me, Claudia, it's your ego that makes you feel like you need readers.
Denise has tried to impress upon me the difference between objective and subjective art. She suggests that a person who is on a spiritual quest
(and here I should pause and say that most days I do consider myself to be on a spiritual quest)
is looking always to be guided by the Divine and motivated to enhance the BEING; that same person should always be looking at her motivations, why she is doing what she is doing.
I called Denise a few weeks ago and told her I was a bit confused about how to go forward with this crazy story about Sister Renata. I was confused about whether it was objective art, or subjective art. I was confused about whether I was feeding my ego or operating out of a spiritual quest for the Divine.
She told me to start by considering what my motivation was behind my book.
And all I can say is that my motivation is unclear, except for one thing: FREEING SISTER RENATA FROM PRISON.
I know I've got to get her out, and I'm the only one who can do it because I alone know the true story, I know that she did NOT KILL ANTONIE. Señora Ramos knows it too.
I also know that somehow by freeing Renata, I am also freeing me.
I know that but still, it gets difficult. Sometimes it feels impossible to go forward.
So often all I can do is sit in the courtyard with Teresa and stare up to the lion-colored hillside where we walk. Sometimes all I know is that I write in my diary about my cousin Antonie and his foolish stories making me into a flamenco dancer.
Sometimes all I know is that I am in Renata's body. In her blocky black shoes and in her scratchy wool habit.
I am sitting on the cold stone bench in the prison with her staring out at the gallows and...
and on and on.
Anyway, Denise doesn't deny all of this. She simply tells me me that I have to call forth art from the BEING, which is part of the eternal, and not from the ego, which is a fleeting construct of my mind.
I would be lying if I said I understood completely what she is saying. Sometimes I understand but sometimes I just don't.
Sometimes I think I am just telling a story that I have to tell.
Sometimes I think I am telling a true story.
And sometimes I think I am lying.
Of course, sometimes I am convinced that all stories are lies, even if they are supposedly true stories. Because all stories are made out of words and words are just not real. They are only symbols for what we are thinking.
Stories are made up of symbols, little black and white squiggles which are known as words, which fill up a page or a screen.
But words are also magic. If Antonie writes a story about me, dancing in a red dress with ruffles, you can see it, right?
And if I write the words, “green pine trees in a forest” you see can that too right?
And if I say, “hummingbirds at my backyard feeder,” you can see that too?
Stories are a lot more important than people realize. Without stories, without memories, we wouldn't know who we are.
I started writing the Renata story when my dear friend Nina was going through chemotherapy at Sloan Kettering way back in 1995. I thought that by delivering up to her a good story, in this case a kind of wacky time travel murder mystery, that she would be distracted from her terrible pain and suffering.
Nina is absolutely fine today but when she emerged from Sloan she looked just dreadful: like a greenish yellow ghoul, puffy with no hair. Awful awful.
But then what happened: I never delivered her the story, and then I got cancer in 2002 and then I too had to get blasted with chemo at Sloan Kettering and let me tell you no story could possibly have distracted me from the goddawful misery that was sitting week after week in those olive green barka lounge chairs with those poles swinging overhead, waiting for hours as those clear plastic sausages full of vicious fluids drained slowly into my blue veins.
Is it any wonder I have had some difficulty with the nun story? Is it any wonder that I'm stalling even though all my readers probably want me to go forward, assuming there are readers?
But of course, I don't need readers, I just need a mission of love and integrity and divine purpose.
It is fucking absurd to write a book like this, on a blog. WHO EVER HEARD OF SUCH A THING?
Maybe I will Google, "Novels on blogs" and see what comes up....